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London Borough of Lambeth (21 005 720)

Category : Transport and highways > Parking and other penalties

Decision : Upheld

Decision date : 27 Mar 2022

The Ombudsman's final decision:

Summary: Mr X complains the Council did not cancel parking charge notices for his stolen car. This led to unnecessary enforcement action. Mr X also complains about the enforcement officers behaviour which caused significant distress. The Ombudsman finds fault with the Council for not cancelling the notice which resulted in unnecessary enforcement action. The Council has agreed to pay a financial remedy and consider service improvements.

The complaint

  1. Mr X complains the Council continued to pursue him for parking charge notices (PCN) despite him evidencing his car had been stolen.
  2. Mr X complains the Council cancelled all but one of the PCN’s, and he was subject to court action and bailiff intervention. He says the bailiffs were aggressive and violent towards him and his family.
  3. Mr X complains the Council and the bailiffs repeatedly did not adhere to the legal legislation during the process.
  4. Mr X also complains the Council has failed to understand the stress and impact this has had on him.

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The Ombudsman’s role and powers

  1. We investigate complaints about ‘maladministration’ and ‘service failure’. In this statement, I have used the word fault to refer to these. We must also consider whether any fault has had an adverse impact on the person making the complaint. I refer to this as ‘injustice’. If there has been fault which has caused an injustice, we may suggest a remedy. (Local Government Act 1974, sections 26(1) and 26A(1), as amended)
  2. If we are satisfied with a council’s actions or proposed actions, we can complete our investigation and issue a decision statement. (Local Government Act 1974, section 30(1B) and 34H(i), as amended)

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How I considered this complaint

  1. I considered the complaint from Mr X and the information he provided. I also considered information provided by the Council. I considered comments from Mr X and the Council on a draft of my decision.

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What I found

What happened

  1. Mr X had a car registered to his address. Mr X’s car was stolen and he reported this to the police.
  2. In June 2020, the Council sent Mr X several parking charge notices (PCN) for the stolen car to his address. Mr X provided the Council with proof that he had reported the car stolen to the police.
  3. The Council liaised with the police about the stolen car and cancelled all but one of the PCN’s. The outstanding PCN advanced to court action. The Court clarified the situation with the Council and the Council said it would cancel the final PCN.
  4. The Council did not cancel the outstanding PCN, and as no payment or appeal had been lodged, it advanced to enforcement action against Mr X.
  5. Mr X was subject to enforcement action and says the bailiffs treated him and his family badly, assaulted him and committed fraud when taking payment for the outstanding amount.
  6. Mr X complained to the Council about its actions and the actions of the bailiff company.
  7. The Council accepted that it had missed a PCN when cancelling the PCN’s for Mr X’s stolen car. It offered Mr X £100 in recognition of the time and trouble Mr X had incurred because the Council’s error.
  8. The enforcement agency acting for the Council also accepted poor conduct from its officer. It refunded Mr X the charge he had paid, and offered a £200 payment and flowers in recognition of the distress its agent had caused.
  9. Mr X remained unhappy about the Council and enforcement agency’s actions and bought his complaint to the Ombudsman.

Analysis

  1. Mr X provided proof to the Council that his car had been stolen and the Council accepted this information was enough to cancel the PCN’s for the car.
  2. However, the Council has accepted it did not cancel all PCN’s and this led to court and enforcement action against Mr X for the PCN that it had missed.
  3. The court and enforcement action caused Mr X great distress. It also caused him to be out of pocket the sum of the PCN plus enforcement action fees.
  4. The Council has already accepted fault on its part not to cancel the PCN and apologised to Mr X and offered £100 in recognition of the distress caused.
  5. The enforcement agency reviewed the footage of the enforcement action and recognised the behaviour of the officer was inappropriate. It refunded the charge and offered £200 and flowers in recognition of the distress its agent had caused.
  6. In this case, the Council has recognised the time and trouble caused to Mr X by pursuing the issue and offered £100 in recognition of this. The enforcement agency, acting on behalf of the Council, have recognised the distress caused to Mr X by the actions of its agent and offered £200 in recognition of the distress.
  7. I have reviewed the communication between Mr X, the Council and the enforcement agencies notes. There is eleven months between the PCN’s being issued and Mr X being refunded by the enforcement agency. There was also a period of time where Mr X was out of pocket after being charged by the enforcement agency.
  8. The Council’s offer of £100 for time and trouble is suitable and in line with the Ombudsman’s guidance of remedies. However, there is no acknowledgement by the Council of the distress that has been caused by the Council’s maladministration and unnecessary enforcement action. The distress acknowledged is that of the enforcement officer’s behaviour.
  9. It is my view the Council should also have remedied Mr X for the distress caused to him by the Council’s maladministration. This was fault by the Council causing further injustice to Mr X.
  10. I am also of the view that the Council has not yet identified how to prevent this happening in the future and potentially causing further distress.
  11. Part of Mr X’s complaint is that the enforcement agency did not adhere to the legal legislation during the enforcement action. This included not serving notice of the debt. The agency were not able to provide copies of the footage however I have seen notes from the footage and the communication between the agency and the Council. I have also seen a copy of the notice. On balance, I am satisfied the enforcement agency served notice of the debt.

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Agreed action

  1. Within 4 weeks the Council has agreed to
  • Write to Mr X and apologise for the fault identified above.
  • Pay Mr X £200 in recognition of the time and trouble taken by him in pursuing the issue.
  1. Within 12 weeks of my decision the Council should
  • Review how it ensures PCN’s are cancelled where appropriate proof is received. This should include how it ensures PCN’s are not missed and does not result in inappropriate court and bailiff action.

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Final decision

  1. I have now completed my investigation. I find fault with the Council for not cancelling the PCN on Mr X’s car. This led to unnecessary enforcement action which caused Mr X significant distress.

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Parts of the complaint that I did not investigate

  1. Part of Mr X’s complaint is that he was assaulted by the enforcement officer and fraud was committed by the enforcement agency. The Ombudsman cannot investigate allegations of illegal behaviour. This is for the police to investigate. As I understand, Mr X called the police and reported the behaviour. The Ombudsman is not able to take any further action on these parts of Mr X’s complaint.

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Investigator's decision on behalf of the Ombudsman

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